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So I’ve been criticized for saying that our country is, more than ever, a meritocracy based on productivity.
One of the threaders, in fact, said we’re a plutocracy based in pseudo-meritocracy. I’m actually sympathetic to that (exaggerated) criticism, especially if the evidence used to support it begins with the ridiculous salaries “earned” by our leading CEOs.
I’m also sympathetic to the criticism that we have a kind of bourgeois-bohemian “cognitive elite” that’s starting to perpetuate itself as something like an hereditary aristocracy. We can see, for example, that our leading secondary schools are better than ever, but those available to most ordinary Americans are getting worse. We can also see that the families of the top 20% of Americans are getting more stable, while the families of the “bottom half” continue to deteriorate. That can’t mean that kids are getting an equal opportunity to succeed.
Having said all that (and I could say more), I stand by my basic position. Productivity is the standard we recognize. We judge people as free beings who work. And so race, gender, religion, class background, sexual orientation, and so forth mean less than ever. I’m not saying, of course, that things are perfect on these fronts, but they’re better.
The best criticism of our meritocracy based on productivity is not so much that many claims for productivity are “pseudo” or faked. It’s that there really are standards higher than productivity.
And we’re supposed to honor one of those higher standards on Memorial Day. In his address for the occasion this year, the president made two memorable points.
He said this is a day when we honor “fallen heroes.” That phrase reminds us of the Athenian Pericles, and men who know how to memorialize great deeds, to find meaning in courageous death.
He added that the Americans today putting their lives on the line for our country are less than one percent of our population. And they don’t seek honor and glory. When they fall, we usually barely notice.
One reason among many is that the lives of the men and women who make up our various “special forces” are so different from those of their fellow citizens that they feel little connection to us and us to them. We can assume they don’t think much of our meritocracy based on productivity, especially if the productive really think they deserve what they have, especially if the productive show no gratitude to fallen heroes. We still have "citizen soldiers," but most of our citizens have never been soldiers. Most Americans, I would guess, weren't close to any of the recent fallen, and many or most of our sophisticates, studies show, don't even know anyone who serves in our armed forces.
Memorial Day originates with the Civil War. It began as “Decoration Day.” And it originated with women. Southern women took up the task of decorating the graves of what turns out to have been hundreds and hundreds of thousands of their fallen heroes. Theirs was highly civilized work—a duty maybe more Greek and Roman than Christian. That work, as the image above shows, continues today by some women (and men) throughout the country.
The original Decoration Day in the South—later Confederate Memorial Day—was April 26. But it was later in the spring in a few of the states in the upper South, at a time when the most beautiful flowers were in bloom.
General John A. Logan issued the order in 1868 that May 30 be Decoration Day. His order really was mainly about making cemeteries full of the fallen beautiful and inviting places, and he was following the example set by the women of the Confederacy. His was, from a Southern view, a partisan order, insofar as the day was to remember those who died to quell the rebellion and free the slaves. His order was also about services that would be remembrances that would be something like funerals.
Another source of our Memorial Day was a grateful memorial celebration held by the newly freed blacks in Charleston, SC on May 1, 1865. They fixed up a graveyard filled with meant-to-be-forgotten Union soldiers who had died in a hellish Confederate prison.
The Civil War (or, to be nonpartisan for the moment, the War Between the States) was America’s epic story, with the number of fallen heroes exceeding by far anything experienced by the great Greeks and Romans. The immensity of the causes and principles at stake—in addition to the incredible suffering and loss of life—meant it took a while for Americans to view the heroes on both sides as heroes. Still, when President Wilson said, in the interest of national unity, that the reasons for the fraternal struggle had been forgotten, he was wrong. And he should stay wrong. The issue of the constitutionality or rightness of secession can be argued. But not questionable is the new birth of freedom caused by the Union victory.
Memorial Day, after World War I, became unambiguously a day for the whole country. Large numbers of men from every state died heroically for the same cause, and the same for World War II and the wars since.
But Confederate Memorial Day lives on in eight states.
The name “Decoration Day” was abandoned in favor of Memorial Day because the idea of decorating had come to seem frivolous. But keeping the memories of fallen heroes alive through stone memorials and flowers and flags isn’t really frivolous. It is, to repeat, a highly civilized expression of gratitude and love.
It should bother us that we’re so detached from the fallen that most of us don’t think of Memorial Day that way, just as it should bother us that so many of our war memorials and cemeteries are crumbling from neglect. It’s not a sign of progress that we’re not much about putting flowers on graves anymore in general.
It probably should also bother us the date of Memorial Day is now moved every year to make possible a three-day weekend.
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.